TODAY

TODAY   |  March 17, 2014

Crimea votes to join Russia

Crimea voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. But President Obama tells Vladimir Putin that the U.S. will never recognize the results. NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel reports.

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>>> people of crimea voting overwhelmingly to secede from ukraine and join russia . but the u.s. and other nations are rejecting the legitimacy of that vote. richard engel is in crimea this morning. richard, good morning.

>> reporter: good morning, savannah. this is an enormous victory for vladimir putin restoring crimea which was once part of the soviet union to russia . and preparations are already underway to phase out the local currency, introduce the russian rupel. the riot police are out in force to make sure no one dare try to reverse the march towards joining russia . officially, 97% of crimeans voted to break away from ukraine and become russia 's newest province.

>> feels like we've got a little bit of freedom and justice.

>> but many said the vote can hardly be considered free or fair. russian troops which captured crimea by force last month stood guard as votes were cast. russian armored vehicles outside polling stations were a sign of how moscow wanted this vote to go. opposition activists told us posters were put up by his apartment warning his neighbors that he was a traitor like many here, he boycotted the referendum. but according to crimea 's deputy prime minister, this is just the beginning of ukraine 's division.

>> you think this is the first step?

>> yes.

>> and other regions will follow?

>> i really think so. i think second step will be east ukraine .

>> reporter: protests have already begun in eastern ukraine asking for a referendum and to join putin's expansion plan. cold war rhetoric is also increasing from moscow with a television presenter saying on state tv that russia is the only country that can turn the united states into, quote, radioactive dust. matt, savannah?

>> thank you.